Since the '60s, sexy girls always seem to end up in sci-fi features; and they're still doing it. Look at Jessica Alba and Megan Fox. Since I was still unproven at the time, I was hoping that Fox would groom me for more challenging roles. But as fate would have it, the studio had a completely different plan for me. My first starring role was to be in a dinosaur epic called One Million Years B.C. Fox's studio head, Dick Zanuck, called to tell me that I would be playing the part of Loana in this remake of the 1940 caveman classic. Although I thanked him for my "big break," all I could think was, A dinosaur movie? You've got to be kid-ding me! I figured my performance would disappear without a trace.
Four brief months later came the release of the poster for One Million Years B.C. Several million copies of that image were circulated throughout the planet to herald the launch of the movie. And now we've come full circle to the moment you probably first became aware of me.
There I was, staring out at the world as though from the beginning of time. The cultural critic Camille Paglia later described it as "the indelible image of a woman as queen of nature. She was a lioness: fierce, passionate and dangerously physical." Anyway, the doeskin bikini struck a chord. I became every male's fantasy.
In the photograph, I look so convincing, so formidable standing there astride the rocky landscape in that partially shredded animal skin. I seem alert and slightly defiant, as though ready to defend myself against anyone who might attempt to tear the mini-toga off me. Or like a mama bear, ready to protect her cubs.
In one way the image was very apt, because I knew I was going to have to fight to stay afloat in the most treacherous of identities: the role of sex symbol. There I was, stranded and easy prey in that deso¬late realm of overnight success. But I was nobody's pushover. Would I be just a flash in the pan, as some predicted? It was me against the world. Or should I say us, if you count my two children. When that fa¬mous photo was snapped on location, my little ones were miles away, playing by the hotel pool with their nanny at the bottom of a mountain, while Mom was atop a smoking volcano . . . and it was snowing!
In fact, it was soooo cold that the entire crew was bundled up in nice cozy parkas. Even the cameras froze. So they hung pots of hot coals un¬derneath the camera boxes, to keep the motors warm. But nobody seemed to care about my motor. Why didn't I have a parka? "Cave girls don't have parkas," I was told. Not surprisingly, I came down with a severe case of tonsillitis.
It was so not how I had pictured it. On the first day of shooting, I went straight up to the director, Don Chaffey, and said quite seriously, "Listen Don, I've been studying the script, and I was thinking . . ." He turned to me in amazement and said, "You were thinking? Don't." Then he said, "You see that rock over there?" I was all ears. "That's Rock A. When I call action, you start running all the way over to Rock B, which is over there. When you get about midway between the two, pretend you see a giant turtle coming over that hill. You scream . . . and we break for lunch. Got it?"
I got it all right. He was just the first in a long line of producers and directors who didn't give a rat's ass what I thought. For years I felt like the Rodney Dangerfield of sex symbols. I got no respect.